Supporters determined to find a solution to keep Jackson County's 15 branch libraries open despite diminishing funds packed the Jackson County Courthouse Auditorium on Wednesday, offering ideas to the Board of Commissioners.
While the crowd brought up levies, special districts and taxes, officials said they haven't settled on a possible funding mechanism.
"We're still reviewing options," said Kim Wolfe, Jackson County libraries director. "We want to get all the options on the table."
More than a dozen concerned library employees, volunteers and parents urged county officials not to close the doors on the libraries' 89 employees, 200-plus volunteers and thousands of library cardholders.
"I think literacy is something that is so important for our community," said Michelle Blum Atkinson of the Library Advisory Committee. "No one wants to shut the libraries down."
But closure could be on the horizon.
During the county's budget hearings in April, the board passed a motion to close 14 branch libraries by the start of the 2014-15 fiscal year if alternative funding sources have not been found. If that trend continues in 2015-16, the Medford branch could close, too.
"This isn't something that just happened. This is something that's been an issue for the last five years," Commissioner Chairman Don Skundrick said.
During this spring's budget process, the county faced a $6.7 million budget shortfall, thanks to declines in federal O&C funds, property tax revenue and interest income.
Officials proposed filling the gap with about $5.3 million from the county's rainy-day fund and making $1.4 million in cuts to the Jackson County Sheriff's Department, Development Services, marketing, the Extension Service, libraries and others. Later, many of those departments received six months of funding to give them time to look for alternative funding methods.
Skundrick proposed an annual $84 surcharge — $7 a month — to support Jackson County Jail operations, freeing up its portion of the general fund to pay for libraries and other departments on the chopping block.
A survey of 500 of Jackson County's likely voters — those who have voted in at least two of the last four elections — showed 57 percent opposed the idea because they considered it too expensive, so the county dropped it.
Library officials urged commissioners Wednesday to give them adequate time to find a solution.
"We have to develop a way to spread out the burden, and right now the burden is on Jackson County," said Shelley Austin of the Jackson County Library Foundation.
Supporters said communities with libraries attract businesses and make for a more literate populace.
"I think we're all headed in the same direction. How we get there is the question," said Pat Ashley, who lives outside Eagle Point.
Michael Morgan of Medford attended the meeting with his 11-month-old daughter. He told the board the libraries are an invaluable resource for children because of the programs and educational materials that can better prepare them for school.
"To eliminate the library system here in the valley, which, realistically, is one of the crown jewels of the valley ... we're just going to do a disservice," Morgan said.
Though the commissioners made no decisions, several attendees said they came away feeling encouraged.
"I feel confident we will come up with a workable solution," Wolfe said.
Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.